Today in The Washington Post‘s political blog, a report on The Pentagon’s survey of military personnel on the implications of rescinding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And the testimonials from some in the military paint a grim picture of pervasive apprehension:
Some expressed fears about contracting AIDS or getting leered at in the showers. Others worried that it would get in the way of critical bonding at barbecues and bar outings. Still others said it would be an affront to their religious beliefs and harm the military’s credibility.
Overall, the study showed that about 70 percent of active-duty and reserve forces saw little or no problem with ending the 17-year-old policy, which critics have said is discriminatory, harmful to troop readiness and at odds with the military’s emphasis on honesty. But in a 13-page section of the report, dozens of quotes reflected the attitudes of the remaining 30 percent.
(bolding mine) That’s three paragraphs in.
I’m not going to belittle the opinions or concerns of people in the service. And I definitely don’t want to suggest that 30% of any population should be ignored. That’s one of the most infuriating things about the same-sex marriage debate, where the numbers are closer, but opponents insist that a simple majority means ignoring the opinions of millions in support.
But when 70% of the respondents say they don’t see a problem, and you put the focus on catching a fatal disease or getting leered at in a shower, that’s kind of a sign of a deeper problem. Hang on, it’s not just an over-reaction. It’s a problem of who’s given a voice and how much weight is given to that voice. It reinforces the idea that a minority’s desires — and not just desires, but rights — are subject to the comfort level of everyone else.
The most ignorant opinions — and “ignorant” isn’t used here as a pejorative, but simply a lack of awareness or exposure — are given the most importance. We’ve seen it in cases of civil rights, we’ve seen it with the rise of the Tea Party and cries of socialism. The media treats the fringe as a majority, and reinforces the notion that in a democratic society, we’ve got to get the support of everyone before we can move forward. But on some issues, you’re never going to get the support of everyone. There will always be opposition, going based on ignorance, fear, or prejudice. How long do you emphasize the importance of that opposition, instead of just doing the right thing?